Cuba: a unique gay-friendly destination

Mariela Castro, Fidel Castro’s niece, a figure of LGBTQ+ activism in Cuba

Located south of the Bahamas, Cuba is the largest territory in the Caribbean. Cuba’s island forms the major part of the country, the rest being divided between the Isle of Youth and more than 4000 islets and other keys. You will find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with turquoise waters and white sand. Its capital, Havana, which bears the coat of arms of the “key to the new world and rampart of the Caribbean” will take you back to the Hispanic colonial era. But in 2021, can Cuba be considered a gay-friendly destination? This is the question we will try to answer.

gay travel in Cuba - Julien Kustler

Cuba is a magnificent destination shared between 2 worlds. Spanish colony since the 15th century, Cuba will live, from 1868, a long war to claim its independence. With the help of the United States in this Spanish-American war, Cuba officially became the Republic of Cuba in 1902. It is not a total independence because the Platt Amendment places it under American protectorate. Cuba thus became an American territory for a little more than 50 years. In 1953, Fidel Castro, in opposition to the ideology of capitalism, began the Cuban revolution. Cuba experienced its major revolution in 1959 and officially became a socialist republic in 1961. This was followed by a rapprochement with the USSR and an embargo by the United States since 1962. Financially supported by Moscow, Cuba fell into a serious economic crisis when the USSR fell in the early 1990s. This crisis is still very much felt today.

Faced with this embargo situation, the Cuban authorities did not remain inactive and decided to relaunch the tourism sector, even though American tourists could no longer visit the country. However, the political and economic situation in Cuba has meant that the sector has not developed at the expected speed. Since 2000, tourism has really taken off on the island. A warming of relations with the United States followed, culminating in the visit of President Barack Obama on March 20, 2016, even if the embargo remains in place (flexibility has existed since 2009 for American citizens of Cuban origin). As soon as Donald Trump took office in 2017, relations broke down again. We are now waiting to see what direction the new President Joe Biden will take in the bilateral relationship with Cuba.

A little more history. Before the Cuban revolution of 1959, there was a very strong repression of homosexuals in Cuba, reinforced by the Catholic religion. Subsequently, the idea that capitalism reinforces sexual perversion was disseminated, resulting in hundreds of homosexuals (men and women) being sent to “healing” camps between 1965 and 1967. Despite homophobic speeches a few years earlier, it was Fidel Castro himself who decided to close the camps in 1967. Besides, in 2010, he will even admit the past years’ injustice towards sexual minorities.

In 1979, Cuba tried to turn the page on these years and homosexuality was finally decriminalized in 1979. A very slow moral evolution follows, accelerated by the actions of Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro and fervent activist for LGBTQ+ rights around the world. In 2008, Cuba was one of 66 signatories to the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. The new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, is in favor of changing the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Cuba, but the influence of the Catholic Church is still very strong, so all of this takes time.

Today, as a gay tourist in Cuba, you will have no particular problem. The population is mostly tolerant and LGBTQ+ tourists are even very welcome in all the resorts of the country. Showing a little public affection in Havana, Varadero or in the big cities will not make you look like a UFO. Cuba is also known to be a very safe country, although you should take the same precautions as in any tourist destination.

The rights of LGBTQ+ people in Cuba have progressed a lot in the last few years, which makes it almost a haven of peace in the middle of the Caribbean countries, most of them being still very backward in this matter. Homosexuality is decriminalised and discrimination, whether in the private or professional sphere, is legally punished. Gender reassignment, the right to serve in the military and blood donation are legalized and adoption for same-sex couples is allowed. With the new constitution, the government is absolutely trying to legalize gay marriage. To be continued.

The population of Cuba is just over 11 million. Its capital, Havana, with its urban area, has about 3.7 million inhabitants. Then come Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey and Holguín. Most of the resorts are located on the country’s northern coast in the multitude of “cayo”. The climate is tropical but made pleasant by the nearly permanent presence of the trade winds. Tourism is the most important sector of activity, followed by biotechnology and medicine, where Cuba is very advanced. Agriculture, sugar cane and of course the manufacture of rum, cigars and coffee are the other areas of the Cuban economy. All parts of the economy are controlled by state-owned companies.

Until January 1, 2021, Cuba still had a two-currency system: the Cuban Peso (CUP) used by Cubans and the Convertible Peso (CUC) aligned with the US dollar. From now on, the Cuban peso (CUP) is the only official currency in the country. 1 EUR is equivalent to approximately 30 UPCs. 1 CAD is equivalent to approximately 20 UPC. Take some cash with you, which you can change on the spot, as it can be difficult to withdraw money with your bank card (or even impossible with a card from an American bank).

Leave your tips in Canadian dollars or euros, rather than U.S. dollars.

Tourist visa and proof of medical insurance: the tourist card is mandatory to enter Cuba and is valid for 1 month, as is proof of medical insurance abroad. These are usually provided by your tour operator and included in the ticket price. If you are travelling on your own, don’t forget to get them beforehand.

U.S. citizens and residents: all recreational travel is prohibited. However, there are many exceptions that allow an American to travel to Cuba to visit family or to support the Cuban people. Find out before you leave if you are coming from the USA.

Cuba opens Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel, its first 100% LGBTQ+ resort

It’s on the beautiful Cayo Guillermo, with its fine sandy beaches and turquoise waters, that Cuba has inaugurated the opening of its first dedicated LGBTQ+ resort in the very beginning of 2020. The Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel is a beautiful 5 star hotel for adults only. This resort, from the Portuguese group MGM Muthu, is ideal whether you are travelling as a couple, solo or with a group of friends. You can find the details of this hotel in our category “Accommodation available in Cuba”.

New in 2021: Axel Hotel Telegrafo, the first 100% LGBTQ+ hotel in Havana

The hotel Telegrafo Axel Havana is currently being renovated and will open very soon. Cuba is still going strong and now it is in Havana that the international hotel group Axel Hotels will open its future establishment in collaboration with Gaviota, the Cuban tourism company. Housed in a building dating from the 1860s, the Telégrapho Hotel already existed, but thanks to this acquisition, it will become the first gay hotel in the Cuban capital.

The Telegrapho Axel Hotel Havana will have a total of 63 rooms, a restaurant, a fitness & spa area, a lounge bar and a terrace with swimming pool. The hotel is located in downtown Havana, near the Capitol and the Grand Theatre.

Explore Cuba

Video source: You Tube – Infotur Cuba Official – December 17, 2019. Information : take a look on our French page version and discover the Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel in video (not available on the English-US version of

Gay and gay-friendly accomodations in Cuba

Cuba in pictures

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